Welfare safety net inquiry launched

18 September 2015

The Work and Pensions Committee has launched an inquiry into the "local welfare safety net", including locally-run schemes which have replaced elements of Department for Work and Pensions' discretionary Social Fund; local Council Tax support; and Discretionary Housing Payments, where a claimant’s Housing Benefit is insufficient to pay their rent. 

Scope of the inquiry

The Committee is considering the interaction between the national benefits system and these locally-run schemes, and variations between different areas, both in terms of the type and level of support available and the eligibility criteria applied by different local authorities.

The Committee is considering the extent to which local discretion and variations in provision represent "localism in action" or in fact create a "postcode lottery", and is seeking to highlight good practice; identify where gaps in provision might exist; and suggest remedies.

The Committee is seeking to:

  • Provide a balanced assessment of the extent to which emergency welfare and housing policy objectives are being met at local level, including whether the most vulnerable are consistently being given sufficient support
  • Promote best practice at local authority level
  • Make recommendations to Government and others for specific action
  • Identify a timetable for progress and review.

Call for written evidence

The Committee invites evidence on all of these issues, but particularly:

  • The extent to which local authorities use different criteria for deciding eligibility and the merits of those criteria
  • Accessibility and the advertising of the availability of support
  • The possibility of a broad framework or set of rules by which these types of scheme ought to operate
  • The interaction between discretionary housing payments and local authorities' statutory duties to homeless households. In particular, whether someone who can no longer afford their accommodation is owed a statutory rehousing duty
  • Best practice and innovation at local level, including in non-financial support
  • Central monitoring of the adequacy of support.

Send a written submissions via the local welfare safety net inquiry page.

Committee comments

Karen Buck MP, Committee member, said:

"Recent changes in welfare provision – such as the benefit cap, housing benefit regulations and council tax benefit localisation – have placed more pressure on local councils to offer a basic safety net. This raises huge questions over their capacity to meet need, and over variations in practice between areas which I hope the inquiry will help us understand."

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"There is a great deal of concern that some of the least advantaged people are slipping through our safety net into a state of hunger. Our welfare safety net has developed over decades because there is a level below which we as a society do not believe anyone should fall, no matter where they live. We want to understand how local councils are adapting and coping with the changes in benefits and the extra responsibilities on them to meet genuine need and maintain that basic safety net."

Further information

Image: PA

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